Thursday, 6 July 2017

Should the Green Party be affiliated to the Labour Party?

A version of this article has also been published at Left Foot Forward.

I have noticed comments on the Green Left Facebook page, that some Labour Party members are suggesting that the Green Party should affiliate to the Labour Party. The first time that I heard of this idea was when Jon Lansman, Labour member and one of the founders of the Momentum group in the party suggested it last year.

The model that is being talked about is that of the Co-operative Party, which goes back to the roots of the movement in Rochdale, Lancashire, where the first Co-op was formed in 1844, and they became a political party in 1917. As their website says:

‘Since 1927, the Party has had an electoral agreement with the Labour Party. This enables us to stand joint candidates in elections, recognising our shared values and maximising our impact.’

The Co-operative Party has many co-operative retail businesses as members and promotes this form of economic ownership, within the Labour Party and outside. Co-operative Party branches affiliate to their local Constituency Labour Party (CLP). This enables them to send delegates to Labour meetings and provides a process for selecting joint Labour & Co-operative Party candidates at elections. They do contribute to the election expenses of Co-operative (and Labour) Party candidates. 

Members of the Co-operative Party can be just that, or members of the Labour Party as well, but the Co-operative Party does have an independent structure, separate from the Labour Party. As an independent political party, it maintains its own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

Could this type of arrangement be beneficial to the Green Party? The Co-operative website does state a direct comparison when it says:

‘One approach is that of the Green Party, which has stood in elections for over 40 years. In that time, the Party has secured the election of just one MP, control of a single local authority and no policies turned into law.’

The Co-operative Party, a hundred years old, does have many more elected representatives at all levels of government, including 38 MPs, than the Green Party. Would the Greens benefit from this situation, in pushing our agenda forward? It is worth thinking about seriously, but I can foresee many obstacles.

I think there would be resistance from people in both Labour and the Greens, with Labour perhaps fearing a kind of entryism which always seems to obsess it. Greens may worry about the loss of the party’s independent status and fear that (joint) Labour and Green members from the Labour tradition, would take over the party and compromise its principles.

Although, certainly under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, there are many similar policies advocated by Labour and Greens, but there are also some quite large differences. Labour operates under a fiercely centralised structure whereas the Greens have a de-centralised structure, with no tight control from above. Greens are also free to voice their opinions, which may differ from the party line, and elected representative are ‘unwhipped,’ which is alien to the Labour Party’s tradition. There's Brexit, too.

There is a huge policy difference area over nuclear power and nuclear weapons, where Corbyn is more in tune with the Greens than the majority of his own party. And then there is the question of economic growth, championed by Labour but seen as the root cause of our ecological problems by Greens.

If these hurdles can be overcome by some kind of agreement, which I think is possible, the rewards could be significant for both parties. For the Greens the chance to gain many more MPs and local councillors, and to achieve the kind of political influence that has largely alluded us so far. Time is short of course, with the climate crisis in full swing, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later, and this idea might just do that. Can we wait another forty years to gain a second MP?

For ecosocialists like me in the Green Party, might affiliation to Labour help spread our philosophy to a wider audience?

For Labour, already eyeing up more green voters for the future, this set up would broaden the party’s electoral appeal, especially with younger voters, but others too who are put off by Labour’s centralising nature.

The time has come for both parties to at least explore this idea, to see how it might work in practice. Given the potential benefits that this type of agreement could bring, it would be a shame if the opportunity now opening up goes begging.  


  1. Great article - very thoughtful!

  2. good to see the unthinkable for many principled people being aired to see where progressive alliances can be effective .possibily the biggest stumbling block is the botton up/ top down contrast. top down provides a 1997 landslide but poorer long term results?